Finding ‘Decisive Moment’ in News Photos, Despite Technical Glitches Around the Globe

June 7, 2017

GLOBAL PRESS HQ — Master street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the term “the decisive moment,” the idea that the photographer’s creativity comes from choosing that perfect moment to click the camera.

He once told The Washington Post: “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

As the Visuals Editor at Global Press Journal, I encourage photojournalists around the world to look for that decisive moment. When every moment has the potential to be a decisive moment, we should strive to capture as many moments as possible.

Recently, Shilu Manandhar, GPJ senior reporter in Nepal, submitted 1,093 images for her story about a chariot festival in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Looking through the images, I felt as if I had witnessed more than 1,000 frozen moments.

When editing the photos, I felt that this sheer quantity of moments she provided allowed me an even greater opportunity to select the best ones for our readers. I did my edits in five stages. In my first edit, I culled more than 1,000 images into the top 87. On my next pass, 28 great images emerged. The edits became more difficult, but eventually 28 became 18 and then 14. Finally, I selected the top 10 images for a lead image and slideshow that accompanied the story.

Undoubtedly, the quantity of the photos she submitted helped me to select the highest quality pictures to run with the story. In the edit, I clearly saw that Shilu picked a subject and photographed it over and over. This gave her many chances to capture a perfect shot featuring the decisive moment. So, my edits became collections of decisive moments, rather than separating bad images from good.

A devotee pauses to drink water during the second day of the Seto Machhendranath festival. Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

I believe that a photographer’s ability to capture moments in high quantities leads to better-quality moments. Essentially, quantity equals quality.

But despite technology that allows cameras to hold thousands of digital images at once, sometimes quantity is more difficult than quality for Global Press Journal reporters who struggle against slow and unreliable Internet connections around the world.

Back when film limited the number of photos we took, we could feel the cost of every photo, and we had to choose our moments wisely. Slow Internet connections can lead to a similar feeling of precious time being wasted.

Transmitting just a few photos often takes hours, or even days in places like Zimbabwe and Guatemala. Many reporters are in the habit of only uploading at night.

While a reporter might be limited in quantity, they still strive to complete a well-balanced photo shoot by making every image count.

Sometimes photography can seem like a game of chance. All of the training and practice in the world turns out to be useless if you are not at the right place at the right time. We’re working with new networks of ICT partners and experts to make sure our reporters can focus on the quality of their images, rather than obsessing about the time it will take for upload each file.